Steve Phelps
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Transcript of NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ call with reporters

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps spoke with reporters for about 20 minutes Tuesday, the first time he’s spoken to reporters since last weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All NASCAR races are postponed through the the May 3 Cup race at Dover International Speedway. No makeup dates have been announced.

Here is a transcript of the Tuesday’s teleconference:

              THE MODERATOR:  Welcome, everyone, to today’s media teleconference here with NASCAR president Steve Phelps.  We appreciate you all making the time.  We also realize that you have a number of questions for Steve here today.  We’re going to try to get through as many questions as we have for this teleconference.  We’re planning to set aside 20 minutes, a lot of activity going on here as you might imagine.

With that said, I’ll turn it over to NASCAR’s president Steve Phelps.

STEVE PHELPS:  Thanks, guys.  Appreciate you joining us today.  I’ll just make a quick opening statement as I typically do, then open it up for questions.

I want to thank you for joining us today.  We know you have a number of questions, and we appreciate your patience as we work through what is an incredibly fluid process as I’m sure you can appreciate.

Hopefully we can answer a bunch of your questions, but understand there are many more that we simply do not have answers for at this time.  We’re navigating this process with the entire industry and look forward to providing further details when they are finalized.

We’re working through both the complexity of our sport and our many industry stakeholders as well as the complexity of this pandemic and its impact on our daily lives.

I would like to express my gratitude to you the media, our teams, our drivers, the racetracks and everyone in the industry for their incredible patience and cooperation over the past week.

These clearly are unprecedented times with information changing by the hour.  Collectively our industry has made several difficult decisions, all with one thought in mind:  the health and safety of our fans, our competitors, employees and everyone in the industry.

The situation we are facing transcends the world of sports.  What is most important now is we take precautions to keep everyone as safe as possible during these challenging times.

With that, I’m happy to answer questions.

 

            Q.  When you look at trying to figure out the remaining 2020 schedule, are you looking at midweek races, doubleheaders, racing during the Olympic break?  What are the options?

STEVE PHELPS:  Most importantly we intend to race all our 36 points races as well as the All‑Star event.  What those look like at this particular point we’re looking broadly about what our options are.

At this particular point we would like to finish the season at Phoenix and keep the Playoff portion intact.  With that said, it will require a lot of different opportunities for us to look at.  We’re in the process of doing that.

No specifics around midweek races.  I’ve heard about doubleheaders, different things.  At this particular point a lot of things on the table for us to look at, working with our race teams, working with our racetracks to make sure the things that we’re putting on the table are feasible for us to do.

 

            Q.  About the teams, certainly there’s some questions with the sport being shut down for a couple months about finances.  Is there a way, for lack of a better term, a subsidy for teams in any of the national series, in essence like a parent giving a child an advance on allowance to help teams move along?  Has anything been discussed about helping teams financially through the next couple months?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think what I would say there, no specifics around subsidies or anything of that nature.  We are working with our teams closely to have them industry wide make sure we are all financially viable moving forward during this postponement of our races.

 

            Q.  How do you envision going about the process of deciding the start back of the season?  Is it possible that you could start back with events that do not have fans or do you anticipate waiting to start back when you can start back on a regular race weekend?

STEVE PHELPS:  That’s a good question.  I think the way we view this is kind of how we view Atlanta, which is we need to make sure that we are keeping our competitors and those that are at the racetracks, our race teams, our officials, we need to have the health of those folks paramount for us.

Would we consider racing without fans at some point the to get back racing more quickly without fans?  That’s in the consideration set.  I don’t know.  It’s changing so rapidly, what it means for mass gatherings, what’s that number.

Again, we’ll work with our health officials.  We’re working with a number of infectious disease professionals that are going to help us through what that looks like and whether it makes sense for us to race without fans or have our first race be back with fans.

 

            Q.  Earlier today there was a bulletin about the banning of testing except for the Next Gen related car issues.  At this time do you anticipate there could be any postponement to the next generation debut of next season or is it too early to tell?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think it’s just too early to tell.  We are working diligently to try to stay on schedule.  There continues to be barriers that are put in front of us.  We will have to adapt to those as they come.

 

            Q.  A lot of times when we talk to the fans, people will throw ideas out, kind of come up with things that may not be physically possible or might not understand what you have to do in order to get okays to do things.  How much of what is mandated or required by the networks, what are the obstacles generically to try to put this schedule back together?

STEVE PHELPS:  That’s a good question.

We are working with our media partners, with FOX, with NBC.  If you kind of consider what is going to happen, we’re in this period right now where the major sports are shut down from participating.  At some point soon we hope to all get back to finding that escape that our fans are all looking for, in our case getting back to racing.

We are working with FOX and with NBC to understand what windows might be available.  That will come as we develop this schedule.  It is complex, for sure.  But both partners have shown great willingness to try to work with us, obviously we with the other sports to find windows to get back to racing in our case.

 

            Q.  The fact that lots of sports will come all of a sudden, every sport will be back at it, does that make it really tough?  With the two‑week period off for the Olympics, will that be open to you?  Would the network require that you not do that?

STEVE PHELPS:  I would say, again, nothing has been decided at this particular point with respect to those two weeks.  Will it be a crowded landscape, television landscape, with a lot of different sports on?  Yes, it’s going to be.

I think, again, we’ll work with our television partners to find the appropriate windows so we can get back racing and make sure our fans get the opportunity to see that racing.

 

            Q.  Could you give us some insight into how much NASCAR looked at the landscape of what other sports were doing in terms of postponements and cancellations?  If so, how much did what those specific entities’ did play into your decisions with the announcement of no fans and the postponement of the season?

STEVE PHELPS:  We have a lens to what other folks are doing.  But we needed to look through our own lens of what was going to make the most sense for our fans, then ultimately for our competitors, the folks that work on the race teams, our own employees, our own officials.

Do we have an understanding that these things were happening with other sports?  Of course.  But we need to look at it as it relates to our specific facilities.  The first example being Atlanta, then Homestead‑Miami.  That’s what we looked at.

We tried to run it without fans, then made a determination that, you know what, it’s probably not in the best interest to do that, which is why we postponed those two events.

 

            Q.  Can you prioritize what you are looking for when trying to reschedule races?  Midweek races might be more of a hassle for teams, that versus doubleheaders, if fans are in a venue that has two race, they may prefer to go to the track twice separate times rather than two races over the same weekend?

STEVE PHELPS:  I wouldn’t say ‘prioritizing’ as much as we have to look at it based on so many different variables, so many different factors that will come into play.

I wouldn’t say it’s a prioritization.  It’s understanding what is available to us.  It’s understanding the races that we’ve had to postpone and what is the best way to get them fit back into a schedule.

We’ll take a holistic view of what it is, not specifically how are we going to prioritize one versus another.

 

            Q.  How much are you working on potentially having to postpone more races and/or how confident are your experts telling you you should be able to be back racing by early May?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think for us, we’re concentrating on getting back to racing at Martinsville.  We’ll have to do scenario planning that will look different than that.  Right now our priority is to get back to racing at Martinsville.

 

            Q.  On subsidies for the team, Roger Penske assured IndyCar team owners they’re going to get their first payment of their Leader Circles money.  NASCAR teams are worried about making payroll, they don’t know if sponsors are going to ask for money back, what kind of force majeure is going to come into play.  Is NASCAR concerned that teams are going to go out of business during this time?

STEVE PHELPS:  No specifics around the financials about what will happen with our race teams and how we’re going to work with our race teams at this time.

Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health?  Of course we are.  We want to make sure that each of our teams gets through this, each of our stakeholders in the industry gets through this crisis as well as we all can.

Lots of things on the table.  No specifics at this point that we are prepared to discuss.  Financially we need to make sure that our financials are handled with obviously the stakeholders separately, make sure that we are all aligned with what that’s going to look like.

As of right now, nothing to share.

 

            Q.  You have all these elements in play.  One of those of course is the sponsors.  Obviously some sponsorship went out the window with the individual race sponsorships.  What message are you talking to sponsors about?  Some of those sponsorships may have been geared for a certain time period that’s not going to happen now.  Is that going to be on an individual basis?  Is there a broad mandate towards those sponsors?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think from a sponsor standpoint, each of the sponsors is different, what their needs, wants and desires are, what it says contractually.

No real broad overview or a way to think about where things are with sponsors broadly.  We’ll handle those on an individual basis.

The racetracks that are not our racetracks, they’ll do the same thing.  The race teams and their sponsors will do the same thing.  Nothing specific at this particular point.

We’re looking broadly.  When we talk about stakeholders, sponsors are a huge portion of who those stakeholders are.  We need to make sure we’re adapting smartly with what we’re doing with our sponsor partners and the industry broadly.

 

            Q.  Take us through the decision‑making process last Friday at Atlanta.  It seemed like there was some mixed messaging coming out.  First we heard there was going to be condensed racing, then that changed.  Did it change that quickly?  Was there one thing or something that made it change from we’re going to race this weekend condensed schedule without fans to we’re not going to race at all for the next two races?

STEVE PHELPS:  Obviously it was a very fluid situation.  I will say this:  the industry, the teams, the track, in this case Atlanta Motor Speedway, was everyone working together to try to come to what was going to be the right decision for us and our fans, then us and the safety of our crew and personnel.  It was fluid.

It did change.  We were prepared first run on Sunday, then we were going to pull it to Saturday.  It was decided quickly that we would make a change and postpone both the Atlanta race as well as the Homestead‑Miami race.

 

            Q.  What is the primary motivation and objective behind wanting to make sure that you’re postponing the races and running them later rather than canceling them in some scenarios?

STEVE PHELPS:  Probably depends on who you ask about this.  For us, we have a commitment to our fans that we’re going to run all the races.  We have a commitment to all our competitors that we run all the races.  We have a commitment to the stakeholders broadly that we’re going to run all the races.

We are going to do everything in our power to get these races in.  If there are other variables that happen that would suggest we can’t do that, we’ll look at those at that time.

 

            Q.  Four of the seven tracks that you have postponed, they also have races in the Playoffs.  Is it your wish that the 10‑race Playoff system not be tinkered with, that you would not want to run a doubleheader for any of those four tracks that have races both outside and inside the Playoffs?

STEVE PHELPS:  I would say the answer to that is yes, we are interested in getting these postponed races done prior to our Playoff starting, so not running doubleheaders in those races that have been postponed during the Playoffs.  That is the goal that we’re working towards right now.

Again, if there are other variables that change in the future, we’ll adapt to those as well.

 

            Q.  NASCAR already has so much going on for next year between rolling out a new car and revamping the ’21 schedule.  Now you have this to deal with for 2020.  Are you punting right now on everything for next year?  I presume the timing couldn’t be worse.  With everything you already had on your plate for next year, how much more challenging does it make it?

STEVE PHELPS:  Trying to be as honest as possible.  This is not easy, right?  It’s not easy on anyone who works in this industry.  It’s hard.  We’re not the only ones this is hard on, right?

You have people who are contracting this illness.  You have people who are sadly dying from this virus.  We’re trying to keep it all in perspective with what it is that we do.

To your point, we are still pushing forward right now with the Next Gen car.  We are still pushing forward with changes to our schedule.  We’re trying to do it as smartly as we can.

The variables keep changing, right?  The hurdles keep being put in front of this industry, and this industry keeps jumping over them, then there’s another, it jumps over that, then another and another.

It’s not an easy situation for sure, but it’s one that this industry is managing together.  Really proud of how this industry has come together to try to support each other and to try to get through this as best we can.

Again, it’s a difficult situation.

 

            Q.  How much is NASCAR intending to rely on iRacing and pivoting to other means of entertainment for the NASCAR fans during the postponement?  Where are you intending to direct fans to and how much are you going to rely on iRacing?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think in general we are interested in trying to satisfy our fans with different content, whether that’s through Esports, iRacing.  Tonight, for example, we have a NASCAR Coca‑Cola iRacing Series event at 9 p.m. on ENASCAR.com.  Thank you for that plug.

But there are other things, too.  There are discussions we’re having with FOX about what things we can do, discussions we would have with NBC, things that we can put through our own channels that satisfy our fans.

Our fans are obviously thirsty for this content.  We want to provide it to them smartly and have interesting content as opposed to just repurposing some of the content that’s already been done.

More to come on that.  We want to make sure we’re servicing the fans as best we can.

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, everybody, for making the time to jump on this.  I realize there were a number of you that had additional questions.  It was important that we made Steve available to answer at least some of your questions.  As you probably would imagine we have a lot going on here.  We’re doing contingency planning.  Anything with follow‑up, bring it to my attention and we’ll see what we can do.  Thank you.

STEVE PHELPS:  Thanks for your time, everyone.

 

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

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While NASCAR celebrates Michael Jordan’s entry as a Cup owner, his arrival comes at the expense of another team.

Jordan and Denny Hamlin purchased Germain Racing’s charter, marking the end of that single-car team when the season concludes Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

Seven races remain for Germain Racing, Ty Dillon and the team’s 40-plus employees before they scatter, some within the sport and others elsewhere. The team races for the first time since the announcement Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN). 

“It’s not been real easy the last couple of weeks,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

He has been Germain Racing’s driver the past four seasons. The team, which won Truck titles in 2006 and 2010 with Todd Bodine, has competed in Cup since 2009. Germain Racing’s best Cup finish is fourth, accomplished by both Dillon and Casey Mears.

The team’s future soured when GEICO determined it would not return after this season. Without sponsorship money and with multiple groups interested in the team’s charter, a sale became the best route for owner Bob Germain. Hamlin and Jordan quickly put together an effort to buy the charter and made headlines with their deal.

With lives upturned by the novel coronavirus, Germain Racing employees now seek work in a pandemic. It adds stress to a 2020 that has tested so many.

“We all in life go through things,” Dillon said. “Life is … never going to be easy or perfect. For me, this has definitely been an extremely stressful time with all the things, the virus that is going on, our team announces that we’re selling and is sold now with seven races to go, and you still have people that you care about that you want to see get opportunities.

“Everyone is trying to keep a good attitude. It’s a very tough situation. Then I have a little girl (who turns 3 in November) and my wife is pregnant and we’re going to have our son in November. You have your virus concerns and also wanting to make sure your daughter is raised and still be able to get out and do things a 2 1/2-year-old should be able to do. That is what is most important to me over all things, spending time with her.

“Then you have in the back of your mind you want to provide for your family. I’m 28 years old and just getting started. … Also, I’ve been (racing) since I was 13, I’ve put a lot of effort and time in it myself. I feel like I still haven’t gotten to prove what I’m fully capable of yet. That’s always in the back of my mind. So it’s been extremely stressful.”

Dillon said he’s relied on his faith to navigate these challenges.

“I believe that God is with me in this process, no matter how much I don’t understand,” he said. “He’s on the other side. He’s going to put me in a place that is going to allow me to do the most for his kingdom, and he’s going to bring me the most joy at the end of wherever I’m going here.

“Knowing that is my teeth in this bit of a storm. It’s definitely not an easy season, and I’m immature in the fact that I want to know what is going to happen.”

Dillon, who finished a season-best 10th at Las Vegas in February, said he’s put together sponsorship for 2021. He is among a number of drivers who have not announced rides for next year. That list includes Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley, among others. 

Dillon told NBC Sports that “this week and next week are going to be really crucial weeks in figuring out what the next step is. There’s an array of things that can happen and I’m not sure which one is going to happen.”

2. Staying Power

While Michael Jordan has made news for coming to NASCAR, the key is how long he stays as an owner.

The sport is filled with former athletes and celebrities who have come and gone in ownership roles through the years.

While many in the sport hope Jordan can help attract more fans and businesses, he needs to remain in the sport to help achieve some of those goals.

Denny Hamlin, who is partnering with Jordan on the new team with Bubba Wallace as driver, told NBC Sports and Fox in an exclusive interview this week that he is confident he can create a program with staying power.

“He has me to help him with the day-to-day stuff,” Hamlin said of Jordan. “Obviously, I’ve got a day job, racing a car and that’s what I’m going to continue to do for years and years with my FedEx team, but I know enough about this sport that I can help guide this ownership team in the right direction.”

The team is expected to align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Another key will be the personnel hired to run the team with Hamlin racing and Jordan busy as owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and his other business ventures.

“I think we’re going to have the ability by starting a team from scratch essentially of hiring the best people available at every position,” Hamlin said. “Believe me, since this became public knowledge, we’ve already started those conversations.

“We’re going to give Bubba the best possibility or chance to win in Year 1. I believe that he can win in the first year, but I’m also not naive to think this is an easy business either. It’s hard to win.

“Two years ago, I didn’t win a race. I’ve got 12 years experience and I’m with the best team. My teammate, Kyle Busch, is one of the best, and hasn’t won yet in 2020. It’s not easy. It’s going to be difficult, but I have very good faith that Bubba is going to have everything that he needs to be capable of winning.”

If so, that should keep Jordan in the sport for a long time.

3. TikTok the timing was right

For all the time Ryan Vargas spent searching for sponsorship, networking in the NASCAR garage and looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series, he could have not imagined how he landed a deal with this year’s hottest social media property.

Credit goes to Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas who designs paint schemes for some NASCAR teams.

Pistana created a TikTok car for Vargas because Vargas uses the social app so much. Pistana posted his concept scheme for Vargas on social media in July.

TikTok soon saw the image and talks began.

TikTok
Ryan Vargas’ TikTok car for JD Motorsports mirrors the design Vargas’ friend, Ryan Pistana, created in July and posted on social media. (Photo: JD Motorsports)

“They loved the scheme, they loved the sport,” Vargas told NBC Sports. “They’re very enthusiastic about jumping in.”

TikTok also had a good representative in Vargas, who has more than 40,000 followers and nearly 600,000 likes. Vargas’ TikTok videos are a mix of fun, behind the scenes images and inspiration.

Within about two months, TikTok completed a six-race deal with Vargas and JD Motorsports that will begin next week at Talladega Superspeedway. The agreement allows Vargas to run the rest of the season.

Those six races equal the number of races Vargas has run in the series since last year. He ran three races last year and three this season.

When he hasn’t been racing, he’s often been on the road crew for JD Motorsports. In the last month, Vargas was a mechanic for BJ McLeod’s car at Richmond and Daytona, drove for the team at Darlington (finishing 25th) and was a mechanic for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car at Dover.

“I learn just by doing that,” Vargas said of his role as mechanic at the track. “So when I hop into the car, I know what I want changed.”

It’s a great learning experience but drivers want to drive and Vargas is no different.

“I would be lying to you if I said that didn’t kind of sting sometimes, your friends are out there racing and doing what they want,” he said. “I’ve experienced what it’s like to have pretty much everything fall apart. I was very close to being completely done racing at the end of 2018, so I know what it’s like to sit out and not be in the car.”

Vargas credits a meeting with Mike Davis, director of brand strategy for JR Motorsports and co-host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download, with helping him push through after the 2018 season.

“His piece of advice to me, be present, have your gear and never stop working,” Vargas said of what Davis told him in their meeting.

Vargas has kept following his dream. Now he has a ride for six races thanks to social media.

4. A fan’s last ride

For nearly 20 years, Kenneth Chase took grandson Brendon Harmon to NASCAR races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

They’d travel from Chase’s home in Sebago, Maine and camp with friends and family. Sometimes the group was so large, they’d need a second camper to accommodate everyone.

The trips started when Harmon was about 5 years old. They continued when Chase, known as Pa to his grandchildren, was found to have prostrate cancer.

Kenneth Chase with grandson Brendon Harmon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2014. (Photo: Brendon Harmon)

As his grandfather went through treatments in 2012, Harmon decided he wanted to take him to the Daytona 500.

Harmon worked two jobs and saved more than $3,000 so he could take his grandparents and mom to the 2013 Daytona 500. He paid for the plane tickets, race tickets and hotel.

Chase later got colon cancer. Doctors removed the tumor. The cancer returned. They did another surgery. The cancer came back and spread.

Chase died Aug. 25. He would have been 77 years old Saturday.

“He’s what I aspire to be some day,” Harmon said of Chase. “I really hope my future grandkids think of me the way I think of him.”

Harmon has found a way to honor his grandfather. The NASCAR Foundation and Martin Truex Jr. Foundation partnered for the Nominate a Cancer Hero program. The program auctions off space on a NASCAR Truck or car to put a person’s name for this weekend’s Las Vegas races. More than 40 drivers are participating. The program raised about $100,000.

Harmon found out about the auction shortly before it closed. He didn’t have enough money to provide a winning bid but asked friends for help and they rallied to provide the winning bid of about $2,800 to have Chase’s name on Alex Bowman’s car Sunday at Las Vegas.

Chase was a Dale Earnhardt fan. He switched to Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson after Earnhardt’s death. Chase remained a Hendrick fan after that, so putting his name on a Hendrick car was perfect for Harmon.

“He gets to go fast one more time,” Harmon told NBC Sports. “He gets to feel the race car one more time and hear the race car one more time.”

Harmon will gather with family Sunday and have a cookout at his house, serving deer steak and chicken on the grill. He’ll also have ice cream. Chase would eat ice cream, often chocolate, as he watched the races on TV.

Watching Sunday’s race on NBCSN and knowing his grandfather’s name will be on Bowman’s car will be special for Harmon.

“It’s going to kind of be a mixture of tears with joy,” he said.

5. Learn by example

The Xfinity playoffs begin Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

While Chase Briscoe enters after his seventh win of the season, tying regular-season champ Austin Cindric for the most victories this season, rookie Harrison Burton looks to take the lessons he’s learned this season and turn them into a title run.

Burton told NBC Sports that one of the areas he’s improved most this season is “using my head and thinking about things.”

He notes his third-place finish at Kansas Speedway was a turning point.

“I think Kansas was probably one of the most fun races I ever lost,” he said. “I was really thinking, how can I beat Austin (Cindric, who finished second to Brandon Jones)? What can I show him to make him do something that I want him to do? (It’s) things I listen to Denny Hamlin talk about and say on his radio. Using the mental side of the game to their advantage. That has been really fun to go to the places where that is a big deal and try to make the most of it.”

The key, Burton said, is having a car that will allow a driver to think as they’re hitting their marks in each corner.

“When that becomes muscle memory, that’s when you free up your brain and you’re able to strategize in your head,” he said. “You’re able to show people lines that you know are going to hurt their tires but it’s fast. Then you run them down on a long run because they have been doing that.”

Who has taught Burton a memorable lesson in such a situation?

“Briscoe does a good job of that, of showing you a different lane and catching you with a different lane and then he has the ability to pass you in a completely different (lane),” Burton said.

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Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”